- Darren Smith is a coach at Hartlepool Rovers
- He has started four women’s and girls sides
- Find out more about the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Programme
When Darren Smith was invited to London Irish’s training ground to coach alongside Eddie Jones earlier this year, it came as something of a shock.
The 35-year-old had only started coaching seven years ago at his lifelong club, Hartlepool Rovers, but was suddenly leading a session alongside England’s head coach.
“It was very strange but an amazing experience,” says Smith. “It was comforting to think that I was invited because I was doing something right."
Something from nothing
'Something right' is an understatement. Only 12 grassroots coaches from across the country were invited down to learn from Jones at Hazelwood as part of the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition scheme and Smith’s invite was no coincidence.
Since 2010 he has been the driving force in establishing three girls teams and a senior women’s team from nothing at the County Durham club.
“I have been involved at the club since I was seven but a few years ago I wanted to get more involved and help out a bit.”
The ambition to grow the women’s and girls game at Hartlepool came when he was coaching a group of five girls in a touch rugby session.
“I felt like we could built something and we have. People might look at what we’ve done and think it’s easy but it hasn’t been. You have to work hard to start these teams out of nothing.
“The key thing though is that once they have got here, they have stayed. We don’t have people coming along and then dropping out.”
The vast majority of the women and girls turning up to play under Smith have never picked up a rugby ball before and are often from deprived areas of the town.
“I’ve played at that club all my life and there are people here who would have been in jail if it wasn’t for rugby.
“The levels of social deprivation are high around here but the rugby club gives them something constructive to do and some direction."
Enjoyment comes first
For Smith, the key to success has been a focus on enjoyment over performance.
“As a coach I want them to have fun when they’re playing, we want them to enjoy it.
“A normal training session will start with me at the beginning trying to stop them constantly messing around! But then we move into games-based sessions, using CARDS methods to help the players develop.”
“It has been great to see the girls come out of their shells. I see them start to take the lead in training sessions and matches and really develop as people.”
The formation of the ladies team this year is evidence of the growing movement at Hartlepool. Coached by Emily Hunter as well as Smith, the team has joined the league for the first time this season, nine months after their first Inner Warrior session.
“It was amazing to see their first game,” said Smith. “Watching them play 80 minutes of rugby when earlier this year some of them didn’t know a thing about rugby was great. Their attitude makes them so easy to coach.
“They work hard for each other and that’s what rugby is all about. It is a game for all. It’s for any background, body shape or ability and the support you get from your teammates is what makes it special.”